Summer in the Waiting Room: How Faith, Family, and Friends Saved My Life (Excerpt #66)

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One year after the ICU Psychosis “shark attack,” we celebrated life in a real paradise – Maui, Hawaii July 2011

Author’s note: The following passage is from Chapter 8, “Sharks & ‘Cudas,” of my book, Summer in the Waiting Room: How Faith, Family, and Friends Saved My Life.  This is the 66th excerpt in the blog series.

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At the hospital, Sandra was getting a clear picture of what had happened in the operating room. The procedure to insert the Swan line was routine. As one doctor threaded the line into my pulmonary artery, the other followed the tiny tube’s path on a computer screen. The artery that leads to the heart runs next to the jugular vein. In some cases, the vein and the artery intertwine looking like a braid. That’s how mine are configured.

As the doctor carefully moved the hard wire that guided the tube through my artery, maneuvering the catheter through the curves where the artery and jugular vein met proved to be challenging. As she delicately managed the tight turns while looking at the computer monitor, the hard wire suddenly collided with the jugular vein and punctured it. Blood started squirting out as the doctors worked to contain the wound.

The lead doctor squeezed the vein between the thumb and forefinger of his surgical gloved hand. With the blood making the rubber surface of the gloves slippery, the doctor alternated hands wiping the bright red blood on his smock. The nurse on duty brought in fresh white towels to keep the area around my neck dry. Within minutes, the doctors had contained the situation and stopped the bleeding.

The doctor called a vascular surgeon to evaluate the puncture wound and determine if additional surgery was needed to patch up the vein. The surgeon was at a sister hospital 30 minutes away as my doctors awaited his arrival. In the waiting room, the clock ticked away as Sandra grew more concerned. After several visits to the operating room nursing station, she grew impatient as there was no word from inside.

When the surgeon arrived, he immediately determined that the wound was already in the healing process and surgery wasn’t necessary. Doctors doing the procedure decided to continue and place the Swan line in my heart. They successfully completed the operation in 20 minutes. The lead doctor knew that the conversation with Sandra would be difficult as he walked out into the hallway.

When he emerged from the operating room nearly two hours after the scheduled 45-minute procedure started, Sandra was horrified. The bright white apron covering his smock was smeared with blood. It looked like the apron of a butcher working at a meat factory.

In his calm and reassuring manner, the doctor explained to Sandra what had happened with the jugular vein and how it was resolved. Despite what appeared to be large amounts of blood on his smock, according to my medical record and my later interview with the doctor, I lost just a marginal amount that had no negative impact.

He advised Sandra to be upbeat when she entered the room as I was semi-conscious and probably confused. Although I didn’t know about the punctured vein, a negative reaction from Sandra when she saw the blood-stained towels could have caused me to panic putting stress on my heart.

Sandra later described the scene as “horrible” with blood-soaked towels strewn across the floor and the dressing on my neck covered with the sticky red liquid. She tenderly smiled to reassure me that all was well.

Once again, her faith had been tested. There was the heart attack on June 7th, cardiac arrest on June 18th, the onset of ARDS in late June, the induced coma the first week of July, and then the fever. Now this.

What else would God put me (and her) through? Did He leave anymore fight in me? When she looked at my face and told me that she loved me, I slightly opened my eyes and managed a weak smile. She had her answer. Our fight would continue with God’s help.

The next day, the rhythm of life outside of ICU went on as usual. The Cudas championship swim meet was held at the world renowned Santa Clara International Swim Center, just 10 minutes from the hospital. As our daughters participated in each of their assigned heats in the Olympic-sized pool, Sandra, exhausted physically, mentally, and emotionally, sat on the concrete bleachers with her family proudly watching the girls compete.

Later that summer as I was preparing to leave the hospital, Sandra took me to the ICU to thank the nurses who so skillfully and tenderly cared for me. I didn’t recognize anyone, but for Sandra it was an emotional homecoming.

As I thanked each person who worked with me, a well-groomed nurse wearing a neatly pressed uniform came out of one of the rooms with a beaming smile and said in a familiar voice, “I’m so happy to see you Mr. García.” The nametag on her blouse read, “Fiona.”

A chill ran down my spine as I saw her. I muttered that I had a dream about Fiona as everyone nervously chuckled looking kind of puzzled. When Sandra and I left the ICU, I sat in the wheelchair telling Sandra all about my dream: Mexico, the congresswoman, the beach, the shark, and Fiona tending to the wounds on my neck caused by the shark bite.

Slightly confused, Sandra told me about how doctors punctured my jugular vein during a procedure earlier that summer. Fiona was the nurse on duty that weekend and changed the dressing on my neck several times a day. Sandra fondly remembered that Fiona was always positive and upbeat as she talked to me and treated the small incision on my neck.

That was the first time I realized that fantasy and reality co-occupied my mind in what I later learned was a reaction to the sedative medication and psychosis caused by endless days in the ICU.

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Next week: Doctors recommend a bold move!

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The Trump Era: Where Do We Go From Here?

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Students at Luis Valdez Leadership Academy lining up to join campus clubs – November 10, 2016

It’s been an awful few days.

The presidential election and its result have thrown me for a loop. Even though I believe that Hillary Clinton should be president, it’s not her loss that has left me with a queasy stomach. It’s Donald Trump’s victory that has me wandering aimlessly around the house.

Forget that he knows more about ISIS than the generals. Forget that he’ll bring back factory jobs so fast that our heads will spin. What’s most galling is how he demeans people I hold dear: the women in my life, my Mexican brothers and sisters, the Pope. The Pope for Christ’s sake (pun intended)!

For the first 48 hours after the election, its impact on one group of people weighed heavily on my mind and my heart: the high school students I work with on the east side. Nearly all of them are Latino. Most are children of immigrants, some have parents who are undocumented. They are campus leaders who serve on student council and other leadership groups.

Despite the ugly rhetoric coming from our president-elect during the campaign, neither they, nor their families, represent the “worst” of Mexico and other Latin American countries. All of them, yes I said all of them, plan to go to college. They want to be teachers, doctors, lawyers, businesspeople, law enforcement officials, and more.

They are Americans in the truest sense of the word. Unlike many of the American voters that whisked Trump into office, when the world economy changed, the students’ families didn’t stay home complaining that the new economy didn’t work for them. Their parents took risks by leaving their rural homes looking for opportunity wherever they could find it, understanding that education is the key to a better future.

For sixteen months, my students would ask me what I thought about the presidential elections. Could Donald Trump win? Would he really deport 11 million people and break up families? For sixteen months, I told them that America values immigrants, America was the land of opportunity, and that America would never turn its back on the promise to value all its people. Voters are smart, I assured them.

I was wrong.

On Wednesday morning, my heart was heavy. I was someone they trusted, someone who understood how the system works. I felt like I let them down. I don’t have classes on Wednesdays, so I kept in touch with school administrators to see how the students were doing. It was an emotional day for the students, parents, teachers, and administrators. During a “townhall” meeting, students shared their worries and concerns.

Then they responded to the challenges that lay ahead.

The leadership students had work to do, so they got through the difficult day on Wednesday and went right back to work planning a campus Club Fair at one school and a rally at another. When I arrived at Luis Valdez Leadership Academy, my students immediately set up tables for the Club Fair. The campus quickly transformed from the worry of Wednesday to the excitement of starting clubs on Thursday.

The scene was from a school campus in “anywhere USA,” albeit with a distinctive Latino vibe. Lines of students waited to sign up for the Wilderness Club, the Tech Club, the Music Club – thirteen clubs in all. In front of the table for the Bailando Studio Club, students cheerfully danced to the thumping mix of Mexican, Latin, and Hip Hop tunes. At the Make-up Club table, student leaders were doing makeovers on the spot.

At Roberto Cruz Leadership Academy, the rally was billed as a “walkout” to protest the election result. The only difference is that the students didn’t really walk out as they planned the event for after school. They value education too much. And it wasn’t really a protest. They students marched on the sidewalk of a busy east side street carrying signs and waving to the honking cars passing by. At the rally, students rose to talk about hope, perseverance, and education in two languages.

I was exhausted as I drove home. The pit in my stomach had given way to the hope in my heart. My students taught me a lesson in leadership by practicing a lesson I taught them, “don’t get mad, don’t get even, get ahead.” I try to live by the quote coined by political commentator Chris Matthews. In my moment of despair, watching my students bounce back from an awful day was inspiring. They reminded me that we are a resilient community. When a barrier blocks our path, we will find another way to forge ahead.

All was not lost on Tuesday night.

Nevada voters, led by large Latino populations in Las Vegas and Reno, elected the first Latina United States senator in our nation’s history. Intolerant state leaders in Texas, Arizona, and Nevada are slowly beginning to lose their tight grip on power as Latino voters made their voices heard throughout the West and Southwest.

The racist Sheriff Joe Arpaio, criminally indicted in Arizona for illegally profiling Latinos, was booted out of office after winning six straight elections. The number of Latino city council members in San Jose doubled with the election of a Latina and Latino in non-Latino majority districts.

The country is in transition yet again. That’s the beauty of our system.  Almost half the country wants to change back to the way we were. The other half wants to keep moving forward. We can be angry and dwell on the potential evils of the upcoming Trump Administration, or we can learn from some smart, resilient, and very American students from East San Jose.

They’ve taught us that there’s no value in getting mad or getting even. It’s all about getting ahead. I’m following their lead.

Come join us!

Summer in the Waiting Room: How Faith, Family, and Friends Saved My Life (Excerpt #65)

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Author’s note: The following passage is from Chapter 8, “Sharks & ‘Cudas,” of my book, Summer in the Waiting Room: How Faith, Family, and Friends Saved My Life.  This is the 65th excerpt in the blog series.

The text in italics describes a vivid dream caused by a phenomenon doctors call ICU Delirium.

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When I woke up, I was back in the ICU and everything seemed so clear.  Although I was still connected to a bunch of IV tubes and the intubation pipe was still in my mouth, I was sitting up in the bed and I was aware of my surroundings.

I couldn’t move my arms or legs, but I was reading the newspaper online on a computer screen in front of me. The headline read: SCHOOL BOARD PRESIDENT IN CRITICAL CONDITION AFTER SHARK ATTACK. I continued to read about an accident I had in Mexico and that I was still in a seaside hospital there.

I wracked my brain trying to figure out what was happening to me. I remembered being in the hospital, but didn’t know why. Then it all started slowly coming back to me. We were in Mexico at a seaside resort celebrating the Peraltas’ 50th wedding anniversary.

Sandra, the girls, and I were setting up some beach chairs near a clear lagoon. The place was spectacularly beautiful. We ran into the local congresswoman, the girls’ pediatrician, and their husbands. We were sitting on the pristine beach and chatting with the congresswoman and the doctor while their spouses were in the lagoon.

The men were engaged in a water activity that was all the rage for the well-to-do: taking pictures of dangerous sea creatures in their natural habitat. They hired several Mexican guides to lure the beasts into the crystal clear lagoon where they could snap the photos.

As I sipped a cool drink, I saw a large Great White shark enter the lagoon with its tail swaying in the water and bearing its sharp teeth with a swagger that befitted its reputation. With underwater cameras, the two men clicked away capturing the essence and beauty of the majestic sea animal.

After a few moments, the guides began trying to get the attention of the shark to lead it out of the lagoon. But, the shark had different ideas. It had focused on the congresswoman’s husband and sped directly toward him. There was sudden panic in the water and on the beach. While the lawmaker screamed for help, her husband froze with absolute fright in his eyes.

Instinctively, I jumped out my chair and into the water to help.

As I quickly swam, I felt the shark’s large teeth sink into my neck. The beast trashed me about like a ragdoll. The water was swirling around in a tornado of bubbles and foam as if I was caught in the wash cycle of a washing machine. I couldn’t see anything but white bubbles encasing me in a tight grip and all I could hear was the violent swishing sound of water.

Abruptly, everything went dark and silent.

When I awoke, I was in a hospital bed. A nurse with perfectly combed hair and meticulous makeup was tenderly swabbing stitches on my neck and calming me with her soothing voice saying, “you’re going to fine, Mr. Garcia.” The nametag pinned to her sharply pressed uniform identified her as “Fiona.” Sandra sat at the foot of the bed warmly smiling with confident eyes.

I slowly closed my eyes and comfortably fell asleep.

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The champs rally at the Creekside Cabana was in full swing. Kids and families packed into the small meeting hall tucked into a residential neighborhood to watch the traditional end-of-the year slide show. Outside of the little cabana, an overflow crowd peered through the large windows to catch a glimpse of the spectacle inside.

Marisa and Erica sat on the floor cross-legged in the first row of swimmers laughing and cooing as pop music blared and photos of another memorable summer flashed across the screen. When the show ended, Marisa led the team in a number of cheers that created energy and inspiration for the next day.

From the corner of her eye, Marisa saw her Nina Kim rush out of the cabana with a worried look and the cell phone pushed tightly against her ear. With her brilliant smile and trademark enthusiasm, Marisa continued to shout out chants as her stomach began turning in a moment of extreme anxiety. She feared the worst as bolts of electricity shot through her body.

Nonetheless, she maintained the enthusiastic façade of a leader rallying her troops for the upcoming battle. Minutes later, adrenalin filled her body and blood rushed to her head as she witnessed her Nina and two other moms huddled together holding on to each other in a tearful embrace. Swimming through the crowd as soon as the rally ended, Marisa reached Kim as her heart felt like it was thumping out of her chest.

With a calm that belied her anxious nature, Marisa stood stoically, with tears welling up in her eyes, and gave a definitive directive to Kim: “Nina, just tell me now if my dad died.”

Kimberley assured that I hadn’t died, but confirmed that something went wrong with the Swan line procedure. The details weren’t clear as Sandra was still trying to understand the situation. All that Sandra told her was to bring the girls to the hospital as soon as possible.

Away from the prying eyes and ears of the cabana, Marisa finally lost her composure as anxiety and panic consumed her on the familiar, but seemingly endless, drive to the medical center. She kept asking Kimberley what had happened. Was I dead? Was it my heart? Am I okay? Erica sat in the backseat quietly biting her fingernails. Kim forged ahead with tears in her eyes.

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To learn more about what causes ICU Delirium and The Dreams from my story, click here: https://www.statnews.com/2016/10/14/icu-delirium-hospitals/

Summer in the Waiting Room: How Faith, Family, and Friends Saved My Life (Excerpt #64)

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Hanging out with the Cudas on a Saturday morning – June 2009

Author’s note: The following passage is from of Chapter 8, “Sharks & ‘Cudas,” of my book, Summer in the Waiting Room: How Faith, Family, and Friends Saved My Life.  This is the 64th excerpt in the blog series.

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They next day was filled with anxiety and promise for Sandra and the waiting room. Doctors were concerned that I hadn’t emerged up from the coma.  Despite my delicate condition, I was moved for the first time in over two weeks to take a CT Scan to rule out a stroke or heavy damage to my organs.

The scan was complete in the early afternoon. Sandra and the waiting room waited anxiously for the results, praying for the best and preparing for the worst. At 4:30 PM, doctors shared the good news that there had been no damage to any of my organs, including the brain.

While my lungs were showing promise and it was clear that the sedative medicine was wearing off, the dreams caused by the medicine and ICU Psychosis became more frequent, more vivid, more real, and in some cases, more scary. Many times I found myself near the water or on a boat absolutely helpless with my hands and feet bound in one way or another.

In some dreams, I saw my dad, brothers David and Stevie, Eddie, Miguel, and Pancho. In others, Rogelio would walk in wearing a tailored suit and carrying a briefcase to get me out of whatever predicament the dream got me into. A few months after I was released from the hospital, I paid a visit to Father Francisco to thank him for his prayers and his intervention. I told him about my dreams hoping that he might have an answer to their meanings.

Without hesitation, he told me that water is the Christian symbol of life, and keeping me in, on, or near water was God’s way of assuring me that I would survive the deadly illnesses that had overtaken my body. He correctly stated that each dream ended with a happy ending where Sandra, the girls, and I were back together.

July 16th brought even more good news. The pulmonologist and critical care physician who had been taking care of me recommended to Sandra the possibility of doing a tracheotomy, a procedure that could speed up my progress. The doctor and Sandra had developed a strong relationship and she trusted his judgment. A father of two young daughters, he appeared to have taken a special interest in my case due to Marisa and Erica’s central role in the waiting room.

A tracheotomy is a surgical procedure that requires an incision in the front of the neck and throat to create a direct airway to the trachea, otherwise known as the windpipe. A tube is inserted into the hole in the windpipe allowing the patient to breathe without using the nose or mouth. After a successful procedure, doctors could take the awful intubation pipe out of the patient’s mouth, air would go directly to the lungs, and the patient would be completely off the sedatives. The only downside is a scar on the throat of the patient after full recovery.

Since I had no advanced directives on file, Sandra would rely on the many discussions we had over the years about how we would live our lives. Knowing that I was a person who did everything full throttle, there was no doubt in her mind that I would have said, “go for it!”

In the meantime, as my lungs were slowly healing, the doctor wanted to make sure that the medical team refocused on my heart as well. He recommended the insertion of a pulmonary artery catheterization line, known as a Swan-Ganz Catheter or Swan line, to monitor my heart. The Swan line is used to detect heart failure and blood poisoning, monitor therapy, and evaluate the effect of drugs.

The procedure was scheduled late in the afternoon on Friday, July 16th. The next day was the championship meet for the Creekside Cudas swim team, so most of the waiting room was at the Creekside Cabana for the traditional pre-meet rally.

Marisa and Erica had been on the team since they were in elementary school. Val and Kim’s kids were also on the team, so Saturdays during the summer were family gatherings at the pool. Marisa had been chosen co-captain of the team that summer, so she played a key role in organizing and coordinating the rallies.

Mr. and Mrs. Peralta stayed with Sandra at the hospital to provide support while I was undergoing the Swan line procedure. Rudy also decided to stay with Sandra and the Peraltas until the procedure was done. The doctor explained to Sandra that inserting a Swan line was common and that he expected no complications. The procedure would last no more than 45 minutes to an hour.

Before leaving my side, Sandra said a prayer and kissed me on the cheek.

Preparation for the procedure was actually one of the first things I remember, albeit vaguely, after doctors began reducing the sedatives. For a brief moment, I could see activity around the bed and hear what I later came to know as the pulmonologist’s soothing voice. I was under a white tarp-like cover and wrapped in a white surgical gown. The doctor told me to relax as I fell into a peaceful sleep.

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Next Wednesday: Shark Attack!!

Summer in the Waiting Room: How Faith, Family, and Friends Saved My Life (Excerpt #63)

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The “three loves of my life.”

Author’s note: The following passage is from of Chapter 8, “Sharks & ‘Cudas,” of my book, Summer in the Waiting Room: How Faith, Family, and Friends Saved My Life.  This is the 63rd excerpt in the blog series.

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During the week after the party, the waiting room was back to its daily rhythm. Melody would arrive in the morning to join Sandra and Mrs. Peralta, regular visitors would stop by throughout the day, Val and Kim would spend lunchtime there, Rudy would arrive after finishing his milk delivery route, and Will and Juanita would show up after work as would the rest of the Peraltas with Marisa and Erica.

As the evenings wore on, more visitors would arrive, many with food and snacks. Pancho and Miguel would be the first to survey the offerings. According to Pancho, small burritos made by one of Sandra’s friends would quickly disappear as Miguel popped them into his mouth like bite-sized tater tots. Of course, Miguel said that Pancho was the main mini-burrito popper. Either way, I’m sure that those bite-sized snacks didn’t last too long once they passed the threshold of the waiting room.

Sandra would emerge from the ICU from time to time to provide updates and visit. Before the evening was over, Rudy or Kim would gather everyone in a prayer circle sending hope into my room. Mrs. Peralta would say her goodbyes after rubbing my arms, legs, and head with oil and praying to St. Jude. The “night shift” would arrive usually with a Starbuck’s coffee carrier to share with those who stayed late into the night.

In the ICU, my lungs continued to show slight improvement. Throughout that week, doctors remained puzzled about the cause of my fever as test after test showed no signs of infection. One day the fever peaked at 102.7 degrees.

Miraculously, my badly damaged heart remained stable as the acute respiratory distress syndrome wreaked havoc on my lungs and body. For a brief moment, my heart raced to 150 beats per minute requiring another dose of medicine to regulate the heart rate. These moments always put Sandra on high alert.

I was slowly weaning off the sedative and paralytic medication, so doctors considered the possibility of gradually removing me from the life support machines. When Sandra was in the room I began to physically respond when she talked to me. My eyes moved under the lids when she spoke and I weakly tried to open my mouth as if I was trying to reply. Sandra was overjoyed by these tiny steps of progress.

When she was alone in the room with me, Sandra also exercised my legs and arms in regular intervals as directed by doctors. She studied and learned the significance of every number that flashed on the computer monitors. With that information, she would brief nurses during shift changes to make sure they understood my situation and discuss with them the best course of action to take during that shift.

As the week progressed, so did the numbers that Sandra so diligently tracked. On the morning of July 12th, the ICU doctor shared great news with Sandra. My lungs had “turned the corner,” he told her. Within hours, respiratory therapists removed the nitric oxide machine and lowered the oxygen input of the ventilator to give my lungs a chance to get stronger.

Just two weeks before, I was on three machines clinging to life. Now, a tiny pin-like light was visible at the end of this nightmarish tunnel.

Doctors also believed that they found the source of my infection in the intestines, which caused discomfort and fever. They were confident that the issue would be resolved in a matter of days with antibiotics.

While still in critical condition, I was headed in the right direction. That afternoon in her journal, Sandra gave credit to the day’s turn of events to God. She wrote that my will to live and “God knowing we need you here with us” carried the day. “Trust steadily in God,” she continued, “love will pull us through.” She also began writing with confidence that “very soon we’ll be on our way home to get you stronger.”

As the sedatives wore off, I would respond to Sandra and the girls by shrugging my shoulders, twitching to their touch, and slightly opening my eyes. Sandra wrote excitedly the next day that I opened my eyes enough that she was convinced that I could see her as the corners of my mouth struggled to turn up making a weak smile. During the girls’ nightly visit, Sandra asked if I could hear them. I winked my eye to the delight of the three loves of my life.

They next day was filled with anxiety and promise for Sandra and the waiting room. Doctors were concerned that I hadn’t emerged up from the coma. Despite my delicate condition, I was moved for the first time in over two weeks to take a CT Scan to rule out a stroke or heavy damage to my organs.

The scan was complete in the early afternoon. Sandra and the waiting room waited anxiously for the results, praying for the best and preparing for the worst. At 4:30 PM, doctors shared the good news that there had been no damage to any organs, including my brain.

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Next Wednesday: Vivid dreams caused by ICU Delirium intensify as I start to emerge from the coma.

Summer in the Waiting Room: My Spiritual Journey

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Author’s note: The third and final part of my book, Summer in the Waiting Room: How Faith, Family, and Friends Saved My Life” will explore my spiritual journey since that fateful summer in 2010. The following excerpt is the introduction to Part Three.

Part Two, Chapter 8, “Sharks & ‘Cudas,” will continue next week with Excerpt #63.

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I embarked on a journey to understand God sometime in early August 2010. Before that, my conception of God was a mythical symbol that lived in the pages of Holy Books interpreted by men developing cultural philosophies. I was baptized, received communion, confirmed, married, and given last rites as a Roman Catholic. Despite receiving all the sacraments the Church has to offer, I was unsure of God’s presence in my everyday life.

When the chaplain at Kaiser Santa Clara Medical Center walked into my room in the ICU that August day, I was in the depths of an emotional meltdown. Fully awake, but paralyzed and with a breathing tube in my throat, I was in the beginning stages of irreversible hopelessness. I listened to the chaplain talk about faith and gratitude.

My journey toward true spiritual understanding began that day. It wasn’t an “aha” moment. In fact, I’ve learned that the road to discovering God has no end. A few days later, a doctor expressed confidence that I would fully recover from a deadly side effect that left me in a coma for six weeks.

He said that a “higher power,” not so much his years of training and caring for patients, was responsible for the miraculous turn of events. My condition rapidly improved with each succeeding day. My mind was filled with wonder and swirled with questions.

God is a universal cosmic force that’s had many names throughout history and around the world. The ancients referred to “nature” when explaining the causes and effects of the universe. Native American and other cultures use the term, “The Creator.” When scientists can’t fully describe the cause of a phenomenon, they call it “universal law.”

Whether you practice Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism, Sikhism or any other organized religion or philosophical tradition, faith in God is the cornerstone to understanding the inexplicable. No matter your religious, spiritual, or scientific tradition, that “higher power” brings meaning to the universe.

Since those early days in August 2010, I’ve been on a personal faith journey. Some days are marked by calming enlightenment and others have led to uncomfortable uncertainty. At one moment, the meaning of my life and God’s role in it seems to make sense. In another, it makes no sense at all.

The massive cardiac episode that changed my life has left me with a heart that works at about ¼ of the efficiency of a healthy heart. This has placed severe limitations on my energy. As a result, I have plenty of time to think, reflect, and pray on what God and faith mean to me. I usually do this when I’m on my daily walks.

Sometimes I step out to my beloved arbor in the backyard and sit in the coolness of its shade contemplating all that my family and I have been through. For family and friends, the 100-day ordeal in the ICU, operating rooms, and hospital ended six years ago. For me, it’s a daily reminder of the majesty of God.

On the road to enlightenment, I’ve learned that having faith in God is the key to understanding our place in this uncertain and ever-changing world. As is my nature, I went to the bookshelves to unravel the mystery of faith.

A dear friend introduced me to Marcus Aurelius and the ancient philosophers of Stoicism. My brother David shared New-Age writings about God. Other friends recommended that I delve into the works of Mahatma Ghandi, Muhammed, Buddha, and Paulo Coelho. Reading such diverse viewpoints on a common theme inspired me to dig deeper into my own religious upbringing and tradition.

The words of Jesus Christ and the Gospels are more meaningful to me as a result of my literary excursion. I came to realize that faith can come in many forms. Throughout my journey, I’ve come to believe that faith is rooted in acceptance, gratitude, and doing good.

ACCEPTANCE

I’m a classic “Type A” personality. I use to work tirelessly. After 106 days in the hospital, five weeks in a coma, two months in the ICU, three weeks of intensive physical rehabilitation, and three years of building up strength, I wanted to be “normal” again. That didn’t happen.  Frustrated and angry, I persistently asked God, “Why me?”

Reflection and prayer led me to the answer: “That’s just the way it is.”

Once I realized that there was nothing I could do to change the fact that my heart works at ¼ its capacity, I was able to move on with my life. Through exercise, diet, and faith, I stay healthy enough to make the most of what life has to offer. Acceptance has inspired to pursue longtime passions like writing and working with high school students on the east side.

GRATITUDE

The concept is simple, “be thankful for what you have.” I struggled most with this concept because it flies in the face of our modern way of life. The American notion of working hard to obtain things is embedded in our culture, so the idea of acquiring “more” is valued over “settling.”

I fell into this dangerous trap. Acquisition of material goods didn’t drive my ambition. I thrived on being recognized for my “successes.” Along with recognition come legions of supporters with whom to celebrate accomplishments. When my energy level dissolved along with my weak heart muscle, the acknowledgement for which I worked so hard evaporated as well.

I grew resentful.

Learning the true of meaning of gratitude changed that. God has given me the gift of a second life with an amazing family and a tight circle of wonderful friends. There was a time when I took this for granted. Now I don’t. I thank God for them and celebrate with them every day. This revelation has helped me see the power of being grateful for all of God’s offerings.

DOING GOOD

In 1 Timothy 6:18, God tells those he has showered with gifts “to do good, to be rich in good works, to be generous and ready to share.” This concept has always been part of my being. I fondly remember my parents sharing what little they had to help those who were less fortunate. I took these values with me into my professional and public life.

Somewhere along the way, the lines blurred between good works and professional advancement. In the rough and tumble worlds of business and politics, winning is the ultimate goal. I’m proud of the good I was able to accomplish in leadership positions. But, I also enjoyed the satisfaction of triumph. I’ve come to understand that that’s not what God means in Timothy.

My spiritual journey has inspired me to dedicate every day to try my best, with this gift of a second life, to do good in the way God intended: No recognition. No fanfare. No expectations.

The path to a better understanding of faith has been frustrating, revealing, and humbling. It’s also been therapeutic and full of love and understanding. No matter what religious, spiritual, or philosophic traditions, or lack thereof, you subscribe to, my life is testimony to the healing power of acceptance, gratitude, and good work.

Summer in the Waiting Room: How Faith, Family, and Friends Saved my Life (Excerpt #62)

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“The Compadres” partying before my June 7, 2010, heart attack.

Author’s note: The following passage is from of Chapter 8, “Sharks & ‘Cudas,” of my book, Summer in the Waiting Room: How Faith, Family, and Friends Saved My Life.  This is the 62nd excerpt in the blog series.

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Sitting by my side, Sandra held my hand and anxiously awaited any word from the critical care doctor on weekend duty. He was a handsome, blonde-haired professional who communicated with Sandra in straightforward fashion. The nurse who staffed my room for that night was a friendly woman originally from Brazil who had a passion for her patients and soccer.

Sandra later told me that the nurse treated me with care that went beyond the professional during the scary fever episode. Before the weekend was over, she invited Sandra and me to join her and her husband at a San Jose Earthquakes soccer match when I fully recovered.

After another battery of tests, there was still no verdict on the cause of my elevated body temperature. The doctor explained to Sandra that the steady high fever combined with my lung failure and heart condition made for an extremely dangerous situation. He recommended that testing be halted until my body temperature could be stabilized.

Sandra agreed and soon the medical team, led by the nurse’s warm and sincere care, covered my body with an “ice blanket.”

It had been a couple of days since doctors began weaning me off the paralytic and sedative medication. The ICU Psychosis that caused the vivid dreams was surely at play that weekend. When I blinked, I probably caught glimpses of the doctor and nurse. With the medicine wearing off, I’m sure I felt the sensation caused by the fever. I also had several dreams that may have come from the same time. I vividly remember my sister Patty trying to help me out of a thick sweater and Sandra pouring water over my body.

Sandra mentioned that there was much chatter about Gabby and Ximena’s birthdays when family visited me in the room that weekend. I also had dreams, probably from this time, of being trapped and paralyzed unable to help Barbara’s grandchildren. In a couple of dreams, they were in a small room and I was helpless as faceless men on drugs tried to enter the room to hurt them. All of this may have been the inspiration for the suffering babies from the fever dream.

In addition to my profound love for Marisa and Erica, I felt a love for my nieces and nephews as if they were my own children. Perhaps, in my state of medically-induced psychosis, the babies from the fever dream and the kids in the trapped dream represented my nieces and nephews who loved me and helplessly stood on the sidelines

While the family was celebrating Gabby’s quince, Sandra shared the latest developments with Tía Martha, Tavito, Ana, Will, Juanita and Marianne in the waiting room. They prayed before quietly sitting down to take stock of the situation. It was another setback and Sandra was feeling the strain stronger than ever turning to her faith to carry her through.

Being an emergency room nurse, Marianne reassured Sandra telling her that she made the right decision with the “ice blanket.” Ever the faithful woman, Tía Martha comforted Sandra with the same assurance that can only come from a mother who had her fair share of life experiences.

Comforted by the notion that God was in charge and directing my medical team, Sandra spent the evening talking about the birthday blessings of the past two days and chuckling at the thought of the partiers at the quinceñera. For the rest of the night, she was able to take her mind off of the fever crisis and enjoy the company of the family and friends who stayed behind in the waiting room

About a year later, Sandra recounted that scary night in the hospital. Family and friends talked about how the situation at the hospital became part of the party. In spirit, it felt to the partygoers that I was actually there with everyone. It was a rare occasion where the uncertainty of life collided with the beauty of celebrating a life that was embarking on an exciting and limitless future.

Pancho took video footage at the party. The video tells a tale of a courageous family living life with faith in its heart. The camera  followed a path of moving about the room visiting and catching up with family and friends. This is like my modus operandi at parties. Over the course of an evening, I’m like a nomad wandering from table to table sharing stories that end up in laughter or caring reflection.

Pancho’s camera appeared to be following a path I would have taken that night. Jumping from table to table, he recorded people as they greeted me and sent prayers. Looking into the eyes of each person, I could see the love and sincerity that came along with their words.

One segment in particular captures the power of love and prayer. Tío Tavo Peralta, with his warm smile and signature baseball cap sitting slightly tilted on his head, looked directly at the camera assuring me that all would end well.

When the camera reached the bar, one of my regular stops during these types of gatherings, Pancho focused on my compadres Eddie and Miguel, and cousin Mariano. With more than a few cocktails under their belts, they ventured away from the somber and serious tone shared by others.

When together at parties, we Compadres always engaged in frat-boy shenanigans. In the video, they acted like rambunctious schoolboys putting peer pressure on one of their own by teasingly taunting me to “hurry and wake up” so I could join them at the bar for the next celebration.

Watching Pancho’s production during my recovery at home months later, I felt like I was there. I laughed watching the video, comforted by the fact that I wasn’t exempt from their teasing even while in a coma with a bad heart and failing lungs.

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Next Wednesday: Thoughts on my spiritual journey…

Summer in the Waiting Room: How Faith, Family, and Friends Saved my Life (Excerpt #61)

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Ximena celebrating 8th grade graduation with her Tío Eddie – Spring 2016

Author’s note: The following passage is the beginning of Chapter 8, “Sharks & ‘Cudas,” of my book, Summer in the Waiting Room: How Faith, Family, and Friends Saved My Life.  This is the 61st excerpt in the blog series.

The text in italics indicates that the passage was from a vivid dream caused by a phenomenon doctors call ICU Psychosis. To learn more about what causes The Dreams, go to Excerpt #53 (https://esereport.com/2016/06/29/summer-in-the-waiting-room-how-faith-family-and-friends-saved-my-life-excerpt-53/)

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Chapter 8

 Sharks & ‘Cudas

 

 As the morning of July 9th dawned, it was the beginning of a busy weekend of birthdays for the family. That day, my niece Ximena, Kimberley and Miguel’s daughter, turned 8 years-old. The next day, another niece, Gabby, Valerie and Eddie’s daughter, would be celebrating her quinceñera with a big party. Initially, Val and Eddie wanted to cancel the party due to my dire condition, but Sandra persuaded them that life must go on for everyone, especially the kids.

Ximena, whom I nicknamed “Chimini” (it’s a long story), planned a full day of swimming at home with her cousins, and having pizza and cake later that evening. In a journal she kept that summer, she wrote about her birthday:

Dear tío Eddie,

I hope you feel better & see you soon hopefully. Guess what tomorrows my B-day & I am super Excited.

Sincerely,

Chimini.

She drew little hearts over the “i” in her name in place of the traditional dots.

Ximena and I have always had a close and special relationship. I’ve always admired her exuberance and love of life. Like me, she’s a chatterbox. When she was four or five years-old, she would sit next to me and talk about everything that came to her mind. It was a crack-up watching this little girl speak with so much passion and conviction as her eyes and gestures told as much of the story as her words.

I learned from my dad that children, like adults, had minds of their own and thoughts that they wanted to share. I followed his example by being genuinely interested in what kids have to say. Ximena’s inquisitive mind and animated way of expressing herself always made our conversations interesting. She reminded me of Marisa at the same age. I felt so blessed when she later asked me and Sandra to be her godparents for First Communion.

After a full day of swimming and pizza for dinner, the family headed for the hospital at Ximena’s request. Earlier in the day, she told Kim that she wanted to celebrate her birthday where “Tío Eddie could be nearby,” so Kim decided to have cake and open presents at the hospital cafeteria.

The large crowd, which now included family from out of town that began arriving for Gabby’s quinceñera scheduled for the next day, moved from the waiting room to the cafeteria. There, the usual party of 20, plus some, sang “Happy Birthday” to Ximena, ate cake, chatted, and laughed making the plain hospital cafeteria feel as much like home as the waiting room. For Ximena and the kids, it was no different than being in Nana’s family room or at one of our houses.

The family was together with loyal friends celebrating life. Ximena noted in her journal that, “Today is my birthday & we’re at the hospital. It is fun but it would’ve been funner with Tío Eddie.” I’m sure I felt the energy of their celebration as I slowly showed signs of improving two floors above.

The next day, the celebration of life for family and friends would continue with a traditional Mexican-American quinceñera. Sandra opted to stay with me at the hospital as the girls helped the family prepare for the day. The activities included photos in the morning, a mass at church, and a reception in the evening followed by dinner and dancing.

Miguel recalled that getting ready that day was hard. The adults wanted to have a cheerful celebration for the kids despite heavy hearts. It had been a long summer for everyone. The respite was much needed by all.

As party preparations went as planned that morning, fever became a growing concern for doctors at the hospital. Danger of infection is a major concern for patients staying in the ICU for long periods of time. For the past few days, my body temperature hovered around 100 degrees and test after test couldn’t identify an infection.

My white blood cell count was high as the body tried to fight off the unidentified malady. As the morning wore on, the fever periodically peaked at 103 degrees, prompting the medical team to determine a course of action to address the latest crisis.

When Sandra reported the news to her mom, Mrs. Peralta offered to be with her at the hospital. Sandra asked her not to change plans and not to alarm her sisters or their families. Tía Martha Peralta and cousins Tavito and Ana Peralta, who were in town for the party, decided to join Sandra so she wouldn’t be alone.

Will, Juanita, and Marianne would also be with Sandra that night. With the bulk of the waiting room gone, the usually bustling space was quiet while Sandra and the others chatted and waited to hear news from the doctors.

***

I was sweating profusely. I was terribly uncomfortable. The room was bright as the glare of the large round lights overhead generated even more heat causing my body to feel like I was in an unbearably suffocating steam room. With the exception of the bed, the room was virtually empty. A wide open space led to the hallway where I could see nurses and doctors walking by. I yelled for help, but couldn’t make a sound. Wiggling around on the hospital bed, I tried to free myself from invisible restraints to catch the attention of someone, anyone.

I think I was in maternity ward. I could hear babies crying and see nurses carrying lifeless infants in their arms. The babies were bright red and sweating, obviously suffering from the same heat that consumed my body. All of a sudden, hospital staff started rolling cribs into my room, each filled with a wailing baby red-hot with fever. I wanted to help the babies, but couldn’t attract the attention of the people bringing them into my room.

Despite the scorching environment, the nurses and doctors in the hallway, all dressed in white medical uniforms, looked cool and refreshed. A tall male physician with blonde hair wearing classic black horned-rimmed glasses, a white doctor’s smock, and a smart white shirt and dark tie, walked into the room. After evaluating my condition, he coldly instructed a nurse to find ice to pour over my body. Without emotion, he then began to help the poor babies who were helplessly suffering from fever.

The nurse returned with a warm and assuring smile carrying a silver steel bucket of ice water. Others followed with more pails of relief. I was no longer in bed, but in a small tank that was filled up with the ice and water carried in by the stream of hospital staff. The nurse, a cheerful brunette woman with high cheekbones, big brown eyes, and a soothing bedside manner, told me to relax and get some rest. Soon the fever subsided and I fell asleep in the refreshing tank of ice water.

***

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Next Wednesday: More on The Dreams caused by fever and ICU Psychosis.

Summer in the Waiting Room: How Faith, Family, and Friends Saved My Life (Excerpt #60)

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It had to be a dream! – Image by http://www.shutterstock.com

Author’s note: The following passage is the final excerpt from Chapter 7, “Sticking With God,” of my book, Summer in the Waiting Room: How Faith, Family, and Friends Saved My Life.  This is the 60th excerpt in the blog series.

The text in italics indicates that the passage was from a vivid dream caused by a phenomenon doctors call ICU Psychosis. To learn more about what causes The Dreams, go to Excerpt #53 (https://esereport.com/2016/06/29/summer-in-the-waiting-room-how-faith-family-and-friends-saved-my-life-excerpt-53/)

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On the morning of July 8th, nine days after the oscillator began its work, doctors ordered the respiratory therapist to remove the machine that caused so much angst and fear for my family. The loud thumping sound emitted by the oscillator and the heaving of my chest as air rushed into my lungs with steady precision suddenly stopped.

The pulmonologists had anticipated that I would be connected to the machine for three days at the most to prevent serious lung damage. Miraculously, my lungs and heart survived the constant thrusting of air even though it continued three times longer than expected. Sandra was excited about the rapid progress during the past few days.

Doctors also ordered the gradual discontinuation of the medicines that kept me paralyzed and in a deep sleep. It would be another major step toward overcoming the seemingly impossible. Throughout the day on July 8th, Sandra returned to her journal to document even the smallest piece of good news with exclamation points on each page. Her excitement couldn’t be restrained as she wrote, “Trust steadily in God, hope unswervingly, and love extravagantly. And the best of the 3 is LOVE. I love you!!!”

Feeling encouraged and hopeful, she retreated from the ICU and the hospital to have dinner with the girls and her family.

***

            I slowly opened my eyes and found myself in a strange place. Looking around, it appeared as though I was in a college classroom or professor’s office. I must be close to the ocean, I thought, because I could hear the sounds of waves crashing onto the sand. I could see students with backpacks walking about outside the door.  Even more strange, I was in a cartoon! With the exception of the people I could see, everything else was animated like some kind of Disney movie: furniture, walls, floor, and ceiling.

            I was sitting on a fluffy red arm chair with big colorful pillows all around me and on top of me. They were bright pastel hues of pink, blue, green, purple, orange, and red. I could see my hands and feet, but I couldn’t move them because the cartoon pillows were heavy despite looking light and airy. A medical student walked into the classroom wearing a multicolored nurse’s uniform and scribbled something on the whiteboard I couldn’t understand. When I called out to her to ask about my whereabouts, no sound came from my voice. I couldn’t talk!

            When the student left the room, I began to get anxious. Where was I? What was happening to me? I tried to get up from the easy chair, but the heavy pastel-colored pillows prevented me from moving. I looked around to find a way to call for help as my anxiety intensified. I saw my trusty cell phone on one of the pillows near my feet. That phone had been at my side through thick and thin during my professional quest for redemption and success. It wouldn’t fail me now. All I had to do was text Sandra and she would clear everything up.

            After what felt like hundreds of futile attempts, I couldn’t reach the cell. The pillows on my arms and chest were just too heavy. I was paralyzed, sitting alone on a big cartoon chair in a college classroom near the coast of who knows where. Panic began to set in, my heart started beating harder, and my breaths became shallower. I was scared and confused. Then suddenly, to my relief, Sandra walked into the classroom. She approached me with her angelic and reassuring smile to caress my head with her soft hands telling me that everything was going to be okay. Relaxed and feeling safe, I fell into a deep sleep.

 ***

Sandra had a relaxing dinner with her family and the girls. Despite the fact that doctors continued to say that I was still the “sickest man in the hospital,” she started to get a sense that we were at the beginning of the end of this nightmare.

I was still breathing with the help of the ventilator and nitric oxide machine, but the oscillator was now a thing of the past. I even twitched a few times when Sandra or a nurse touched me indicating that the paralytic medicine was wearing off. All of these events were signs that progress, albeit in tiny increments, was being made.

During the 30-plus days of the ongoing nightmare, Sandra worked hard at keeping the girls lives outside the hospital as normal as possible. They settled into a daily summer routine that started the morning with swim practice. Marisa spent the day at her summer job at the cabana. Erica would spend time with her cousins and Nina Shelley. When evening came, the girls would go to the hospital with one of Sandra’s sisters, have dinner with Sandra and the family, and participate in the activities that unfolded in the waiting room.

The girls would always visit my room together before leaving for the night. Following the advice of doctors, Marisa talked to me with an upbeat tone in her voice encouraging me to fight on. An occasional blink of my eyes would bring a short burst of excitement for whoever else was in the room. Erica stood by quietly, but confident that I would be okay. Once they said goodnight, they would walk out together, Marisa usually fighting back tears and Erica silently walking beside her.

Back in the packed waiting room, small groups were huddled together gossiping, telling stories, eating snacks and drinking coffee. The scene looked like family and friends gathering in a large family room. In addition to the stockpile of food and drink, there were blankets and pillows strewn on the chairs and small table tops. Sometimes the room would get loud as someone told a story or made a joke that generated howls of laughter, only to be reminded that they were in an ICU waiting room.

Erica later told me that when visitors of other patients opened the door, they immediately paused, surveyed the scene, and mumbled some sort of apology with an “oops, sorry” look on their faces as if they stumbled into someone’s home. The startled visitors would quickly shut the door and search for another place to quietly and peacefully support their loved ones in the ICU. The rhythm of the waiting room would resume as soon as the door closed.

As evening turned to night, Sandra’s core of support would begin the process of returning to the real world and preparing for another day. Those who wanted to see me came into my room for a brief prayer and to say goodnight to Sandra while others, who couldn’t bear to see me in such a helpless state, patiently sat in the waiting room.

When Sandra returned to my room in the ICU on the night of July 8th, her mom was with her. They stood staring at me wondering what the future would hold. The man who had an abundance of energy, a tireless work ethic, and a love for parties was in a deep sleep and motionless. Over the hushed chatter between Sandra and her mom, the quiet room echoed with the sound of the machines that kept me alive.

Before leaving for the night, Mrs. Peralta rubbed oil, blessed at the church, on my lifeless legs, arms, and forehead and prayed to St. Jude pleading for his intervention. Sandra’s mom hugged her second daughter tightly in the quiet ICU, made the sign of the cross on her forehead, and kissed her goodnight.

In the waiting room, those who still remained gathered in a circle as Rudy led a prayer. Sandra came out to the waiting room and thanked everyone for visiting before joining the round of ritual goodbye hugs. It was another tearful “see you tomorrow,” another night sleeping on a cot beside the man she loved, another night the girls were away from home, and another night of hope.

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Next Wednesday: Chapter 8, “Sharks and ‘Cudas,” begins!

Summer in the Waiting Room: How Faith, Family, and Friends Saved my Life (Excerpt#59)

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Image by http://www.buzzfeed.com

Author’s note: The following passage is from Chapter 7, “Sticking with God,” of my book, Summer in the Waiting Room: How Faith, Family, and Friends Saved My Life.  This is the 59th excerpt in the blog series.

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During the dark days of July, Sandra vowed to stay positive and urged the waiting room to do the same so that I could feel the energy around me. Marisa and Erica made posters and decorated the room with photos so I could wake up to a place filled with love. One poster wished me a Happy Father’s Day and another celebrated the 4th of July.

Colorful drawings of me with my favorite things, like the ever present San Francisco Giants baseball cap on my head, graced yet another poster. Sandra had been by side every day and every night since the awful cardiac arrest incident and her faith grew stronger as my condition worsened. She ended that morning’s entry into her journal by writing,

“You will make steps closer today because I know that you are fighting to get back to us. We love you Babe!! More than you know…”

I spent two decades of working relentlessly to rid myself of self-perceived failure demons and trying to make Sandra proud that she chose me. Now at my most vulnerable, Sandra expressed her love in the most intimate way. She was talking to me through her journal hoping that I could hear her through the whirring din of the ventilator and the thumping boom of the oscillator.

I had always thought that important professional titles and financial security would impress her, yet the prospect of losing me made an impression on her soul more deeply than any professional or material accomplishment ever could. Although I was motionless on the hospital bed, her love and energy provided the fuel for me to fight.

Later on the afternoon of July 5th, my heart started racing again. While Sandra was spending time with family and friends in the waiting room, my heart rate shot up to 140 beats per minute and my blood pressure dipped below 80/40. When she walked into the room to check on me, medical personnel were once again scrambling to prevent another cardiac arrest episode.

Doctors had to make a complex decision in only seconds. As noted in my medical record, I hadn’t been on amiodarone to regulate my heart beat for several days. Nevertheless, the toxin was used again to bring my heart back into rhythm. Until my lung issues were resolved and a defibrillator could be installed, doctors had no other means to stabilize a racing heart.

Despite that scary moment, Sandra’s faith grew stronger. She described the incident in her journal as “just a little bump in the road.” Later that evening, after saying goodnight to the girls, she walked into the room as the song “Here and Now” by Luther Vandross played on the CD the girls recorded for me. We used the tune for our wedding march almost 20 years earlier.

To Sandra, it was a sign from God that I would be back and that we would be able to continue our life together.  In addition to her absolute commitment to God’s will, she was determined to do all she could to ensure that I would survive. She went on to write, “I know you are coming back to me. I will not accept anything less and I promise I will fight with you until I have you back with us.”

With the frightful day coming to end, Sandra’s unwavering resilience gave her hope. Before she prepared for another night on the uncomfortable cot that sat just feet away from her lifeless husband, she turned to Scripture for comfort:

“I’m sticking with God. I say it over and over again – it’s all I’ve got left. He proves to be good to me and to all who passionately wait and diligently seek Him. It’s a good thing to quietly hope from God.” – Lamentations 3:24-26

While the breathing machines and monitors rhythmically hummed, thumped, and beeped in the dark, Sandra laid back on the portable bed in the ICU and closed her eyes with hope in her heart.

Over the next few days, I began showing signs of promise. My lungs were still terribly saturated with fluid and continued to be unrecognizable to an amateur looking at my X-rays. Nonetheless, the oscillator appeared to be doing its job. The puffs of air that the machine was sending into my lungs were opening air sacs enough to stabilize my oxygen levels allowing the other vital organs to function. The numbers weren’t getting any better, but they weren’t getting any worse.

Doctors were encouraged by that and started making plans to consider options for moving forward. On July 6th, they made the decision to decrease the intensity of air being rushed into my lung sacs by the oscillator. They advised Sandra to be patient and to wait for my body to be completely ready to be weaned off of the breathing machines.

In the meantime, Sandra and the girls continued to support each other with a strength that could only come from their faith and the knowledge that my love for them was without limit. Sandra noted in her journal at the end of the day that “we were getting baby steps closer” to the end of this ordeal and to the moment I would return home.

A couple of days later, as my condition showed signs of improvement, nurses received notification to stop administering Verocounium, the medication that kept me in a paralytic state. Although doctors told Sandra that it would take months of intense physical therapy to completely recover from the muscle memory loss caused by the medicine, she was relieved that the drug wouldn’t do any more damage.

While pleased about the good news regarding minor progress with my lungs, the medical team was becoming concerned about a new problem. A bedsore was forming at the base of my back as a result of laying motionless for more than a week. To keep the sore from further irritation, hospital staff created space between the bed and my body by placing pillows under my shoulders, butt, arms, and legs.

The white pillowcases made it look like I was sleeping on a bed of fluffy clouds, a comforting, yet ominous, metaphor for heaven.

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Next Wednesday: In a major step forward, doctors decide to take me off of the oscillator.